On Sunday night, Vince McMahon and His World Wrestling Entertainment organization held the 36th installment of his famed “WrestleMania.” However, it was a bizarre’ scene on Pay per View, as due to the Coronavirus world wide outbreak, it was held with no fans in attendance at the WWE training center in Orlando, FL.
The “crown jewel” television event has become so massively popular with fans that it’s mainly been held football stadiums in the U.S. for the past 15 years. In fact, this year’s version was due to be held in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, the home of the NFL’s Buccaneers and scheduled to be the site of Super Bowl 55 next Feburary.
Alas, Covid 19 and “social distancing” postponed that.
Further, as odd as Saturday and Sunday’s two night, 2020 version of Wrestlemania was, there have been other zany/unexpected moments along the way.
And, as an example, Wrestlemania once contained an actual boxing match, involving popular club fighter/toughman Eric “Butterbean” Esch, who became a lower level Heavyweight KO machine on U.S. television in the mid-90s against a wrestler, who wanted to be a boxer.
“WrestleMania 15” was held for PPV on March 28th, 1999 in Philadelphia with the wrestling main event involving Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson defending his WWE Championship in a no disqualification match against Stone Cold Steve Austin,
And, on the undercard, professional wrestler Michael Polchlopek, better known as “Bart Gunn,” put on the gloves and engaged in an actual three-round scheduled fight with Butterbean.
Gunn, who was a towering 6-5 + 250 lb. had won a 16 wrestler televised tournament earlier in the year, involving some of the more nondescript wrestlers on McMahon’s roster. Different from the choreographed wrestling, however, they legitimately had fought boxing matches, with gloves on, in the wrestling ring on televised wrestling shows.
Gunn won all four of his to be crowned “Brawl for it All” champ. And, he was pitted against the 5’11, 375+ lb. Butterbean, who head gained fame, as a repeated “Toughman Competition” winner and had already boxed 45 times professionally with a 43 – 1 – 1 record.
Reportedly, Gunn had gone away and trained for more than two months with a professional boxing trainer to be ready for the Wrestlemania boxing showdown.
And, ever the promoter, McMahon used former three-division World Champion boxer of the 80s and 90s, Vinny Pazienza, as his special guest referee that night in Philly.
Once the bell rang, Esch did what most boxing media and fans expected and hammered the wrestler, dropping him quickly with a right hand inside of 20 seconds.
Gunn wisely took an eight count on one knee and stood up, but then Esch came in, landed a glancing jab and then another booming straight right to the jaw. That leveled Gunn flat on his back and under the bottom rope and in the same corner.
Pazienza could obviously see that he Gunn had been laid out and did not bother to count, waving the fight over. It officially took less than 45 seconds.
Thankfully, as brutal as Butterbean’s KO looked and as ill-prepared the medical situation was with no actual paramedics at ringside for Gunn, he recovered fairly quickly from that devastating punch/KO and sat up talking to Pazienza and the doctors.
Gunns’ career was also basically over in the WWE after that night in Philly, as he given his walking papers, shortly after the Wrestlemania PPV.
He wrestled on for another eight years before returning one last time to the WWE and participating in a Battle Royale match on Pay-per-View in December of 2007. He then, retired.
As for Butterbean, he would fight on into his 50’s, winning 77 boxing matches with 58 of them by knockout and 10 losses. Most of his fights were of the scheduled four round variety.
Then, a 53-year old Holmes used his savvy, and what was left of his skill, to keep Butterbean at bay. And, with both men clearly worn out after the sixth round, Holmes beat him on a 10-round decision.
Butterbean also fought on in smaller Mixed Martial Arts fights for several years in the 2000s. And, predictably after his Wrestlemania 15 taste in 1999, he even dabbled again in pro wrestling, as a wrestler this time, later on several occasions in the late 2000s.
Butterbean’s last professional boxing match was in 2013 at age 47.
Still, Butterbean does have a place, as a bizarre footnote, on the one night they had an actual boxing match during a WrestleMania pay-per-view.
And, those who saw it, and “Bart Gunn” who felt it, will never forget it.